Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Good stuff from my students: Bob Dylan paper

The research paper assignment was to write about Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks album from one of four critical points of view: political, psychoanalytic, historical/biographical, or New Criticism. I've gotten some wonderful papers, and I'll be posting a few excerpts here.

These are from Hannah Ward:

Independently, “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,” offers a great deal of insight into the politics of relationships. As a linear story, it is revealed that all the characters have repressed emotions or motives symbolically presented in the song. The Jack of Hearts is a commanding character, earning attention from all walks of life as soon as he arrives in town. Clearly, he presents a fa├žade in order to appear trustworthy; Lily likens him to a saint and the lyrics also state “There was no actor anywhere better than/ the Jack of Hearts.1” He is blatantly referred to as an actor, not only because he is actually an outlaw, but because his multilayered intentions are masked. It is also stated that “He moved across the mirrored room.” The mention of the mirrors suggests the theme of truth; because the mirrors act as reflecting agents, they show both the surface appearance and the masked truth that the characters can no longer hide from. Though his lifestyle is immoral and he’s a typical western bank robber, his position of villain is actually quite questionable; Big Jim and the Judge seem far more threatening and the Jack of Hearts is actually willing to risk being recognized to meet up with Lily, a possible lover. Rather than evil, he seems clever, capable of disguising his intentions, and incapable of settling down. This is further emphasized through the fact that he looks like the Jack of Hearts and looks like a saint; his true motive is never on the surface.


Rosemary deeply conceals her contempt for her lifestyle. She too desires escape, reflecting female oppression. She seems well off, yet she cannot even earn the attention of her husband. Several symbols surrounding her reflect her rejection of reality; she wears false eyelashes, drinks a great deal of alcohol, and also deals with the confrontation of her own reflection. Yet her reflection is viewed within a knife, most likely the one used to murder Big Jim. The fact that she killed him with this knife shows a very personal connection because she was viewing herself within it. Therefore, she commits murder to obtain truth, or an actual sense of justice.


The other prominent motifs of the song, which often overlap, are playing cards and royalty. The Jack of Hearts is obviously representational of deceptive love. The young man equated with the heart suite displays a more tender side. Yet the fact that he is always a playing card adds the element of risk and bluffing. Big Jim and Rosemary are king and queen, cards of a higher position in most games. However, Rosemary is described as “a queen without a crown.” The lack of such a symbol makes her position questionable. She is technically of a high social position, yet her royalty has been taken away through her husband’s affection for another. Even Lily is described as a princess, youthful and fair in comparison to Rosemary. The allegory of royal figures within the Midwestern United States suggests further social tension as the roles of the wealthy are portrayed in a negative light. The fact that they’re cards also emphasizes luck of the draw situation, as if they are undeserving of such positions.

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